Close to London - but worlds apart - the Chilterns is a hiker's (or, as they say in the UK, a walker's) dream.

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The Chilterns is one of Brittan’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and it is located in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. The AONB’s main purpose is preservation, but they also offer people some real rural beauty just a few miles out of the city. A lot of the land is farmland that is still in-use, but the farms are run with preservation in mind.

Taking a trip to the Chilterns is great because of its proximity to London.  In our guide we focus all of our time examining the many different towns you can stay in, and while we don’t talk about where to go in London (that’d be a whole series of blog posts!), keep in mind that spending a week or so in London is a great way to add to your trip.

The other great thing about the Chiltern’s is the easy-going landscape.  It’s a great place to bring the kids due to the easier hikes and all the great farms and kid-friendly activities they offer in this area.

We love all the walks here and you will too.  What’s great about a trip to the Chilterns is that every town and pasture retains that charming British aesthetic.

View Over Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve
View Over Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve
The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin Church Hurley, Berkshire
The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin Church Hurley, Berkshire
WHICH AIRPORT TO FLY INTO TO GET TO THE CHILTERNS

Well, you’re flush with options when you’re planning a flight to the Buckinghamshire area.  There are five airports all under two hours away from the Chilterns: Heathrow, Luton, Gatwick, Stansted, and Birmingham.  So, you can either do calculations to find out the best prices and then transportation cost from each of them, or just pick the airport that is closest to where you’re staying.

If you’re going to Amersham you’ll only be 30.6km from Heathrow.  If you’re going to Aylesbury you’ll want to fly into Luton; it’s only 48.3km away compared to 64.4km for Heathrow.  Want to stay in High Wycombe?  You’ll want to fly into Heathrow.

WHEN TO GO TO THE CHILTERNS

As is often the case, summer is the best time to visit if you want to get all the good weather, but the crowds will increase, obviously.  We think the Chilterns is a great place to travel with kids, so likely you will have no other choice but to travel during the summer months.

If we had our choice, we’d go in April and May.  The crowds are lower and, while it’s cooler and rains more, the wildflowers are at full bloom.  You can always go in September too because you’ll catch the tail end of the good weather, but miss the crowds.

Average monthly temperature and precipitation:

HOW TO GET AROUND THE CHILTERNS

The Chilterns boasts four railway lines with twenty stations and even access in on an Underground line, so the Chilterns is easy to reach by public transport.  A lot of walking routes start and finish by one of those twenty stations.

Of course, you can rent a car too. You can use it to jump around from trailhead to trailhead. If you’re really into the idea of an active holiday, why not rent a bike? Cycle Chilterns has recommended renting locations depending on what city you use as your base camp.

Bridgewater Monument at Ashridge Estate
Bridgewater Monument at Ashridge Estate
Trees Surrounding The Trail
Trees Surrounding The Trail
WHERE TO STAY IN THE CHILTERNS

If you came to England to live out some Downtown Abbey-esque dreams, you wouldn’t be the first or the last. Luxury hotels are one thing, but England has its own brand of luxury – an aristocratic luxury – and, you can find it at the Hartwell House. The Hartwell House is a Jacobean and Georgian style estate.  Its most famous resident was Louis XVII after he was exiled from France for five years starting in 1809. Being such a luxury estate, The Hartwell House has a spa, pool, and an amazing restaurant.  It’s just outside Aylesbury just north of the Chilterns.

If you want to stay in Aylesbury at a more reasonable price point we recommend Malt House Aylesbury. It’s a Bed and Breakfast style accommodation without the breakfast. There are only 6 rooms, so it’s a quiet stay, and while they don’t include breakfast the Hostess is just as sweet and helpful as any top-notch B&B proprietor.  We don’t think you’ll miss the breakfast when you see the quality of the rooms and the low prices. Plus, there’s a top-notch brunch place in Aylesbury, but more on that later.

Amersham is a charming town. It still has old Tudor homes and quaint shops. It’s small but not too small, and it is close to the majority of our hikes.  If you want a nice upper-mid-scale hotel full of charm we recommend the Kings Arms Hotel. It has a good breakfast service that is included. They have a cold bar, good eggs benedict and, of course, the full English. The rooms have the dark oak beams and white walls that we think is so perfectly English.  If you’re a little sore from all the hills you climbed, you can book some time at the Red House Spa that is run through the hotel. They are frequently used for weddings due to their charming chapel and reception spaces, so book early.

High Wycombe, which is a little southeast of Amersham, is one of the bigger cities in the Chilterns. For a simple, clean hotel that you can get for £40 we recommend the Ambassador Court. It’s by the A40 road, but the room are surprisingly not too loud. The beds are extra comfortable and they do have parking if you’re renting a car.

For a unique visit why not go stay on a real Chilterns Farm!  White Pond Farm has a few charming buildings that you can rent by the week for a family of four. If you want to experience life in the Chilterns, and have the freedom to prepare meals for you and your family, this is the place to stay. Many guests who stay here come back year after year.  It’s a really fair price for the size of the buildings, and there’s always something exciting happening on the farm.

And finally, why not just camp? Home Farm Camping is very well suited for a luxurious tenting experience. Prices hover around £15, and include hot showers, a washing machine and dryer room, some fridge/freezer access and dishwashing services. If this sounds closer to glamping to you then wait until you see their actual glamping option! It’s as good as camping gets, OK? Need we say more? Yes? Well then, how about lying in the grass and watching the swooping Red Kites hunt for their prey. Plus, you’re very close to many of our walks.

Trail alongside the lock
Trail alongside the lock
Bench In Aston Rowant Nature Reserve
Bench In Aston Rowant Nature Reserve
WHERE TO EAT IN THE CHILTERNS

Do you want to experience the aristocratic luxury, but don’t want to spend all that money just to stay at the Hartwell House? Go there for Dinner, Lunch, or afternoon Tea. Seeing the grounds is worth it alone. It’s fine, British dining in an absolutely breathtaking setting. Eat like royalty. You deserve it.

For some proper British eats, in a more simple, traditional setting, try going to Gilbey’s in Old Amersham. The hake and stone bass are both very popular, but they have other menus items that aren’t fish related too.

For the best Indian food in all of Buckinghamshire you’ll want to go to High Wycombe and visit Bombay Palace. They have an upper-mid-scale interior service, but they also do takeout. The prices might be slightly elevated, but they have every right to charge what they do because they are the best spot for curries, naan, and poppadum for miles and miles. You have to take advantage of England’s great Indian cuisine while you’re visiting. If you’re staying closer to the north side of the Chilterns in Aylesbury area, pop over to Wendover and check out the Spice Garden. They too have some great poppadums, but we love their Chicken Tikka and Fish Pakora as well.

Head to Great Missenden and check out The Cross Keys. They have a nice beer garden area, and truly excellent British gastropub food. They poor a great pint, which might be just what you need after a day of hiking.

If you decided to stay in Aylesbury at the Malt House, you’ll remember they didn’t have a breakfast service, so we recommend having brunch at The Works. The Works have sweet and savoury waffles as well as a full brunch menu. It’s got an American flourish with the menu, which is to say the portions are big, lavish and addicting. It’s a very popular place.

The Boat in the Grand Union Canal
The Boat in the Grand Union Canal
View Of The Chequers Estate
View Of The Chequers Estate
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO BESIDES HIKING IN THE CHILTERNS?

A really cute way to spend an afternoon with your kids is with a visit to The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden. It’s great if your younger kids know the books. There are fun interactive exhibits, story time, games, and there’s history on Roald Dahl and where inspiration came for some of his books. It’s a small museum but very worth your while.

Another great activity for the little ones is the Bekonscot Model Village & Railway. One would think a model village wouldn’t be something that would make it onto this list, but your kids are going to love it. The attention to detail is what has made this attraction worthwhile for so many years. The train, and kids play area offers enough whimsy and fun to keep the kids running around in between moments of ogling all the people in the little village.

Bletchley Park is a cool trip to make (it’s a little bit of journey to get to Milton Keynes, but not too far). This is where Alan Turing and the famous code breakers broke the Nazi codes and helped win the war. Of course, since the release of The Imitation Game (2014) the park has become more popular and it can be a bit overpriced; however, considering all the history in there it surely is worth your while.

Northwest of Aylesbury is a beautiful Rothschild Estate in Waddesdon. It’s not as old as other Estates in the country, but it’s more lavish than most. It’s almost dripping in elegance. Be sure to stay for lunch or tea. Check out their wine cellars and aviary too.

We mentioned biking before, but we think this is another great way to see that park. They’ve worked hard to make a lot of The Chilterns bike friendly. Plus, you might want some more activity to help work off those British Pints.

Along The Firecrest Trail
Along The Firecrest Trail
Trail Through The Beech Trees
Trail Through The Beech Trees
DANGERS WHEN HIKING IN THE CHILTERNS
  • It’s nice to know that you don’t have to carry your bear spray with you while in the Chilterns, but that doesn’t mean the wildlife isn’t unpredictable. Lets just agree to not approach the animals.
  • Watch out for rabbit burrows. It’s easy to not notice one, and then you run the risk of twisting an ankle.
  • There are stinging nettles that grow in the area. They have green, serrated leaves and, of course, the small hair-like needles. If you come in contact with some, it can get quite itchy, so go get some lotion from a local pharmacy.
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE CHILTERNS
  • The Chilterns is one of the best places to see the striking Red Kites. These birds of prey are abundant in the Chilterns thanks to a successful re-introduction project that lasted from 1989 to 1994.
  • We are not sure this is something you “need to” know, but there are over 40,000 sheep in the Chilterns. This fun fact is a reminder that, while this is a park area and one of Brittan’s AONBs it is assembled from working farmlands.
  • The Chilterns is also home to a rare ecosystem known as “Chalk Streams”. 85% of the world’s chalk streams are found in the UK and they have unique wildlife and plants. It’s worth reading more about them.